Guatemala has detained 20 officials, including the head of its tax collection agency, on charges of collecting fewer duties on imported goods in exchange for bribes.
Another of the primary suspects, the private secretary of Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti, is reportedly in hiding. Some reports say Baldetti’s secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, who is accused of being one of the ringleaders, has fled the country.
All of the suspects have been accused of defrauding the state through bribery. According to prosecutors, the officials accepted bribes in exchange for charging businesses and individuals less than the legal tariffs on imports.
The arrests comes after months of secret investigation into suspected officials through wiretaps and other means. Last week, security agents raided offices and homes of the officials, including Tax Authority director Omar Franco and his predecessor, Carlos Munoz.
As Munoz was being taken to court in handcuffs, he told The Associated Press that he was being detained for “illicit customs association” but was awaiting further details from the prosecutors.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, these officials coordinated with each other in manipulating documents for shipping containers going through customs at Guatemala’s two main seaports, Puerto Quetzal and Puerto Santo Tomás. In addition, the criminal network reportedly operated in the seven busiest border crossings across the country.
Though the authorities suspect that these officials defrauded the government for the past year, there is no clear information about the precise amounts of money they made.
The investigators reportedly became suspicious after the tax agency failed to record a single complaint about tax fraud for an entire year.